Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What so hot about Belgium?

Our first extended train ride led us to our second stopping point in Europe, Brussels. The train station was a short walk to our hotel, and we pleasantly discovered everything else was a short walk from our hotel. Bonus. One of the things close to our hotel, in fact, right outside the door, was "the restaurant-lined rue des Bouchers". It's always comforting when you find that the street with all the restaurants mentioned in the travel guide is right there. The only problem with the rue des Bouchers is that with so many restaurants so close together, the competition for diners creates this sort of carnival barker atmosphere with each establishment having their own "salesman" acting like he's your long-lost best friend and about to give you the greatest deal ever. Bryan went ahead and went with the guy who promised us free beer. Shocker.

So, we're at this mainly seafood place. We're in Brussels. So it seems obvious what to order, right. Of course, I did. I ordered the mussels. Prepared in garlic sauce I believe. Who really knows, the menu was in was the waiter. My travelling buddies ordered...Italian food? Yeah, I don't know. But my mussels and pommes frites were tasty. Next on the list was to find the waffles we had heard so much about. And find them we did. The first waffle I had that day came topped with cream and chocolate sauce and to even compare this to Hershey's would be an insult to the entire country...we were in Belgium people! After one bite the only thing I could think of was when I could get my next one. While walking around in a epicurean induced haze we stumbled into the Grand Place. And I can make no argument, there is very few places on earth more grand than that.

After a respite in the room to finish our waffles and watch a game we headed back out on walking tour #2 of the trip (Yea Walking Tours!) This one shockingly lead us back to the Grand Place where I succumbed to the pressure of a local custom by "rubbing the bronze deathbed sculpture of Everard 't Serclaes". You run your hand along the length of the female sculpture and then that thing on the top. It's supposed to be good luck. Word's still out on whether it worked or not. From there we made our way to the Manneken-Pis...yes, the peeing boy . It was here that we began to take note of an apparent European custom that seems to be their version of a bachelors and bachelorette party. We found groups of people where one, presumably the bride or groom, dressed in some sort of costume accompanied by other members of the party that were attired in matching t-shirts usually identifying the betrothed couple. Here at the Manneken-Pis I believe we saw the bride and groom parties accidentally run into one another.

It was here that I made my first major error of the trip. Up until this point I was the one always stuck with being the "obvious tourist goob" by having to guide our walking tour while carrying the book. I had grown weary of the thing and passed it on to Bryan. After 30 minutes and about a mile and half, I realized we were no closer to the Palace and its accouterments that was our goal. So, I took the map back, never to be relinquished again. Oh, there was also some sort of Turkish festival going on while we were there. They were parading these things down the street. I have no idea...

We did a little more walking and finally ended up at the Royal Palace. We headed back through the Parc de Bruxelles. Thought we saw a topless chick, but I had to assure Bryan that it was a dude. We grabbed some dinner as we watched some more soccer and plotted where to get our next waffle. And get it we did. Except this time, I thought some ice cream might be an excellent addition. It was, but I gotta tell you, eating a waffle covered in ice cream and heated chocolate sauce on a paper plate with a plastic fork while walking through crowded streets is not the easiest thing to do. We got back to the hotel and some poor teenage girl was forced to ride the elevator up with us while we toted our food. Oh, the elevators were kind of tiny, so she seemed quite relieved to get off.

The next day we had decided to take a side trip to Brugge. A quaint little town filled with historic churches and canals. Kind of like Amsterdam, but smaller. We did the obligatory canal boat ride , not bad. Hit a disappointing museum that was partly closed for construction. Had a big argument over lunch (shocker). If you believe what they tell you, we saw the blood of Christ and a Madonna and Child sculpture by Michelangelo at two different churches. It's really hard not to be impressed by the churches there. Not just the size and architecture, but what's inside. The church with the Madonna also featured numerous paintings bigger than a wall, and all pre-1700. Here that would be fodder for a noteworthy art exhibit. There it's just some stuff they hung on the church wall. This day we tired quickly (it was quite hot) and decided to head back to Brussels. We missed the 4:30 train by about 45 seconds. The next one was at 5 pm. Bummer. And then it was 30 minutes late. Real bummer. Then the 5 o'clock and 5:30 train arrived at essentially the same time. And then we made one of the worst decisions of the trip when we chose the wrong train. Wrong being the one without air conditioner and vastly slower than the other. Our 50 minute train ride turned into about and hour and half.
Bummer doesn't begin to describe. Nothing like hours of marinating in your own sweat. Look how happy we were to arrive back in Brussels. We went straight to dinner, another patio with the game on. I think we had to watch Mexico win (bastards). Then we headed off for our (sadly) final waffle run of the trip. This time without the ice cream (you CAN have too much of a good thing), but everyone was still quite pleased with the way things were going. We walked back through the Grand Place one last time and that was it.

Oh, one last thing. Possibly the best feature of our hotel was the breakfast. Both the food--that featured hot food and chocolate croissants(the greatest baked good ever)-- and the view. See picture. I'm pretty sure no one has something like that outside their breakfast nook (Yes, that is the Grand Place in the background).

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